Photo: Alena Kuzub
Spare Change News works through word of mouth. Most of the vendors who’ve been interviewed in the Last Word column were at some point encouraged to join by another vendor whose testimony inspired them. What this means it that there’s a widening circle of people whose lives have been touched by the paper.
Gary Brown’s story corroborates this. He’s been working for Spare Change News for roughly seven years now and was signed on to sell the paper by a friend who had some experience doing it.
“I heard about it from another vendor who passed away,” says Gary. “His name was Joe. He was a good friend of mine. I started doing it off and on. It helped me get through the day. It filled the gaps.”
Once new vendors are brought into the Spare Change News community, they often find that the paper becomes more than a valuable source of income. It also helps them to learn about important things like housing and health care for the homeless.
Gary points out: “I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of people and getting a lot of information on housing, health care, what hospitals the homeless can go to and shelters—from people [at the paper].”
He also gets a lot of enjoyment simply from meeting people in the street. The spot where he sells the paper is Coolidge Corner where a lot of undergraduate students pass by all the time. He says: “It’s a joy to talk to people. I meet working people, people hanging in the street, regular school kids, college kids.”
As many of us know, there’s often a good and bad side to “community,” and Gary has experienced both. When he left high school as a teenager in Roxbury, he went straight into the marines. His brothers also served and some of them ended up in Vietnam. Although Gary stayed in the United States, he still bore the brunt of people’s criticisms in relation to the war.
“It wasn’t too good when I came home,” he says. “They called us childkillers. Me and my brother. He was in Vietnam between 1967 and 1972. People in Roxbury didn’t care for the war at all because it was taking all the loved ones away and they were dying.”
Gary was homeless for about 15 years before he managed to get housing through the Veteran’s Center on Court Street. He’s now in a program at the VA in Jamaica Plain. “I used and abused alcohol and drugs while I was out there,” he says. “Spare Change helped me out a lot and got me thinking about my life, put money in my pocket and opened my mind to housing. I went to all kinds of shelters and finally … I’m not homeless.”
If Spare Change News exists to do any one thing—besides offering a news platform for homelessness-related issues—it’s surely to put its vendors in a position where they’re more likely to find housing. “I’m not homeless” is a phrase that most people never say, simply because they take it for granted; for others, it’s a miracle.